Overall Position: 11th
New contracts for Patrick Roberts: 1
Instances of the word “depressing” in this article: 3
Sunderland came into November off the back of an indifferent month although had shown signs of improvement with the win against Norwich. In my October review I said November gave us an opportunity to get “firmly back on track” playing sides with, at the time of writing, an average position of 17th. Let’s see how that worked out…
November started with a game away at Swansea City at one of those stadiums named after a website you see nowadays. Things got off to a great start after 30 minutes when the Swans’ Charlie Patino bucked the seemingly universal trend of loving Pierre Ekwah by picking up 2 bookings for late challenges on our adorable Frenchman.
10-man Swansea had a chance to take the lead however when Luke O’Nien did his best Bret Hart impression, grappling with Liam Cullen before hauling him to the floor. The referee pointed to the spot but Jamal Lowe proved himself to be far from the “Sharpshooter” required as his penalty was saved by Patterson. Jack Clarke clipped a free-kick off the bar just before halftime and had an opportunity to take another one early in the second half but no…
O’Nien was inexplicably now on free kicks and he duly hammered a wayward shot into the crowd. Clarke’s effort was matched near the end of the game though as Abdoullah also hit the Ba with around 10 minutes remaining. It was the last meaningful moment in a game where Sunderland had more than 70% possession and 25 shots but ultimately could not find a way through. T
ony Mowbray explained after the game that “we’re struggling to find the formula with a centre-forward.” You don’t say?
Despite those comments Nazariy Rusyn kept his place up top as Sunderland welcomed/tolerated Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City to the Stadium of Light.
With O’Nien and Dan Ballard both suspended, and Dennis Cirkin injured in the warm-up, a patched up back line featuring Jensen Seelt and debutant Nectar Triantis took their time to settle into the game. At the other end of the pitch Rusyn was highly unfortunate not to get his first goal for the club, whacking a shot against the post early on. Sunderland continued applying the pressure and soon went ahead as Jack Clarke’s corner was flicked on by Rusyn and former Birmingham starlet Jobe Bellingham sidefooted home from 7 yards.
Being a modern man-child, Jobe did the modern thing of not celebrating against his former club. Despite our dominance Birmingham were looking dangerous on the counter and the excellent Koji Miyoshi, a thorn in Sunderland’s side throughout, slotted home the equaliser after 30 minutes.
Into the second half and a deep cross from Patrick Roberts was nodded back across goal by Trai Hume only for Triantis to throw himself at it, bundling the ball past former England keeper (yes, that’s right) John Ruddy. His visible delight was only bettered by substitute Adil Aouchiche who tapped home the third after great work from Clarke and proceeded to celebrate his goal in about 3 different ways. Wholesome and heartening narratives all round as the result lifted us into the top 6… maybe we were “back on track”?
Next up, an away game at the unfathomably-far-away Plymouth Argyle following the international break. O’Nien and Ballard came straight back into the side in place of Seelt and Triantis, but to be honest we could’ve played all 4 of as part of a back 6 and they still wouldn’t have stopped Morgan Whittaker’s opener. The baby-faced forward cut in from the right and unleashed a thunderous drive past Patterson and sometimes you just have to say “well done son” … but I’d rather not say it twice in one game.
Sure enough, Finn Azaz was next, cutting in from the left and, it has to be said, under very little pressure from O’Nien, slotted home a good finish into the bottom corner. In between those goals was an incident involving a challenge on Hume by Plymouth’s Luke Cundle which earned the latter a yellow card, but on closer inspection, and confirmed by former referee Chris Foy to Sky Sports, it should have been a red.
Regardless, Sunderland were now chasing the game, and in a performance reminiscent of those against welsh rivals Cardiff and Swansea, the lads racked up 14 corners, 24 shots and hit the post twice but couldn’t find a way through. 19th placed Argyle came into the game having won just once since the end of September but walked away with 3 points.
Without much time to dwell on it, the final game of the month came just 4 days later as 21st placed Huddersfield Town visited the Stadium of Light. In very familiar fashion Sunderland dominated possession but the Terriers looked dangerous, as terriers often do.
Sure enough, Huddersfield took the lead as giant centre-half Michał Helik somehow rose above 5ft 6-inch Patrick Roberts to nod home. It was a stuttering first half performance from Sunderland as Eliezer Mayenda, on his first start and the latest in a long line to get their chance up front, showed good moments but offered little more than Rusyn or Burstow had done before him. O’Nien got us back in it, lashing in from close range after Hume and Seelt, back in the side but inexplicably playing right-back, had helped it on. O’Nien, involved in both positive and negative ways throughout, threaded a lovely ball though to Jobe who only had the keeper to beat, but beat him he could not.
We were made to pay for that miss as the Terriers went back in front; Sunderland’s defence painfully slow to react after a Jobe tackle as Delano Burgzorg slotted home a good first-time finish. Mowbray’s quadruple substitution to bring on Bradley Dack, Alex Pritchard, Ba and Hemir made little difference, with the last act of the game seeing Clarke pick up a booking for calling the referee something out of the James Cleverly Dictionary. A thoroughly depressing end to a thoroughly depressing game, rounding off a thoroughly depressing month.
The mood amongst fans is sombre, with the sound of calls for the manager’s head still quiet but definitely audible. We’ve had a bad couple of months, there’s no denying that, but December brings with it such a hectic schedule (there are six more league games before January) that there’s every chance to put a good run together and climb up that liberally-lubricated ladder that is the league table.